Today I have returned to my students. I'm always surprised, after the exhaustion of spring, to discover how much I've missed them, how excited I am to be back in the classroom, teaching.

I've spent the past month preparing for the next nine, and somewhere between notes on A Farewell to Arms and rethinking my lead-in lesson on perspective, I reread the critical thesis I wrote two summers ago. I called it "Landing: A Focus on Place in Flyover Fiction." In it, I examined first place--how it's created in writing, effective techniques, etc.--and second those writers from my flyover state who seem to have a handle on such things. I wrote it as a writer for other writers. But this time, because of the headspace I was in, I read it as a teacher, and my planning from that day on changed.

Later, I read in the most recent issue of Orion Erik Reece's essay "The Schools We Need." He talked about many things, but the paragraph that stood out to me was this:
"When students learn about artists from their particular watersheds, they begin to feel their own home place legitimated, validated. Localizing knowledge makes the curriculum more relevant to students' own experience, and it can instill a sense of pride about the places where our students live. 'When I was growing up in these mountains,' wrote Kentucky novelist Lee Smith, 'I was always taught that culture was someplace else, and that when the time came, I'd be sent off to get some. Now everybody here realizes that we don't have to go anyplace else to 'get culture' -- we've got our own, and we've had it all along.'" (34)
Reading this felt a bit like a sign, some confirmation.

So, yes, I will still teach Hemingway and the research process and how to select the very best word. But this year, in every way I can, I will not just be a writer of place, but a teacher of it too. I will say, "I know you think this town is small, that this state is nothing compared to New York and California, that you and those who understand your local experiences count for so very little when held next to THE WORLD. But no. It's not true. Your voice matters. And here are a few names of other Minnesota writers who will tell you so: Robert Bly, Joyce Sutphen, Louise Erdrich, Bill Holm, Paul Gruchow, Patricia Hampl, Sigurd Olson, Jon Hassler, Lief Enger, Kao Kalia Yang, Faith Sullivan, Jude Nutter, Tim O'Brien, Sinclair Lewis, Charles Baxter, David Treuer, Garrison Keillor, Vince Flynn, Joyce Sidman, Judith Guest, Amanda Hocking, Larry Sutin, Alison McGhee, Kate DiCamillo...


  1. Brian Malloy, Anne Ursu, Sinclair Lewis...

  2. Wow, you are a gifted teacher! I had one teacher like this in high school who helped students relate to issues that were local and therefore better understood. And with regards to writing, art, music to realize that others have high value and they came from the same back ground as you, how inspirational!

  3. Amy--I was hoping that someone would do what you did. I'll have to check out the first two!

    Bill, you are always so generous with your kindnesses. Thank you. We'll see how much I'll be able to follow through with this over the school year. I'll just say this for now: it feels inspirational to simply be back with my students. Glad for that!

  4. Love it, Emily! Your students will be better adjusted to *any* place in the future, near or far, since they're being saturated in *their* place now. It's a general lesson, but once again you prove how the best general life lessons can often be taught through creative writing!

  5. That's the hope, Suzanne! Thank you, from one teacher to another.

  6. This is so wonderful, Em. Really resonated with me because, growing up in Hawaii, the idea is so often to go away to get educated, get cultured, to become, to learn ... and then you're supposed to come back with all that knowledge. But you are so right to celebrate what's right in front of one's nose all along.

  7. Yep. I wonder how many kids get that impression. My guess is a LOT. Several of my creative writing students studied Minnesota poets the other day, and it was so great to see them get excited about literature sprung from their own backyards.


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